Reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan — Opium production in Afghanistan this year plunged by nearly half from 2009 levels, the United Nations said in a report Thursday. But the steep drop was attributed to a fungus that wreaked havoc on the poppy crop, not to Western anti-narcotics efforts.
The scarcity dramatically drove up prices so much that officials fear poppy cultivation will prove an irresistible option in the coming year for farmers whom authorities are trying to entice to grow legal crops. And despite the blight, the premium prices probably put about as much drug money into the insurgency's coffers as previously.
In its annual survey, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said this year's opium output was the lowest since 2003, but even so, Afghanistan continues to dominate the world supply. Moreover, homegrown drug use is increasing. In rural areas here, opium is commonly used as a painkiller, even for small children, and the ranks of urban addicts grow daily.
Poppy growth is concentrated in southern Afghanistan, the insurgency's main stronghold. Fighting makes it more difficult to contain drug production, though a government incentive program was credited with a slight drop in poppy cultivation in Helmand province, where intense clashes have taken place this year between Western troops and the Taliban.